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‘Inside the NHL’ with Jeremy Roenick

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so I feel its time that the NHL begins to flatter the NBA.  The NBA can be seen as an older cousin to the NHL as they share a number of things in common;  Gary Bettman is a product of David Stern (can already hear Drew’s teeth grinding), the seasons are roughly the same length, same number of games, same number of teams, usually play in the same arenas.  So then how can the NHL emulate the success that the NBA has had on network television? 

I was never a big basketball fan while living in Canada.  I never played the game growing up, didn’t really follow any teams and I rarely watched any games on tv.  Now I haven’t undergone a “conversion” but I do find myself watching more basketball these days.  I started off watching the last 5 minutes of the 4th quarter and have progressed to the point where I will leave the game on in the background until the 3rd quarter and that’s when I usually take an interest.  Now I realize that basketball can be seen as an American equivalent to hockey, so just as TSN will show 3 hockey games a week in Canada, TNT will show 3 basketball games during that same period.

However the NHL isn’t trying to market the game in Canada as the fan base is already tuned in.  As I said in last week’s column the first step in this process is getting onto a dedicated sports network like ESPN.  The second step is to develop talented analysts that can interest people in the United States in hockey.

Looking at the basketball example, part of the appeal for me is watching what happens after the game.   The NBA post game show ‘Inside the NBA’ on TNT features Charles Barkley, Kenny ‘the Jet’ Smith and Ernie Johnson.  These guys could be talking about water polo and I would tune in!  They are hilarious throughout the broadcast, insightful and keep the viewer wanting more.  I think its time the NHL borrowed this model from the NBA. 

Part of the NHL’s problem is the lack of any significant US televsion personalities to help push the sport.  Love him or hate him Don Cherry helps to sell the game in Canada.  As often as people tune in to hear what hockey related things he will say on Coach’s Corner just as many are tuning in to hear him discuss something controversial or perhaps to see which ‘ugly’ suit he chose to wear. 

So then who could present this type of post game analysis in the United States? If you followed the ‘Inside the NBA’ theme you would need someone as brash as Sir Charles.  In my mind his U.S. hockey equivalent would be Jeremy Roenick.

The guy is funny, has played the game at a high level for 20+ years so he could offer insightful analysis and doesn’t lack for conversation.  Who wouldn’t tune in for a 30 minute post game show to get some of J.R.’s wisdom.  The beauty of the ‘Inside the NBA’ guys is they aren’t always talking baseketball, but whatever they are discussing, you can see they are enjoying themselves and that chemisty translates to the people who watch.  That’s why the NHL needs J.R. and possibly even Brett Hull, guys who don’t always tow the party line, but because of what they say and how they say it can draw people into whatever topic is being discussed.  So imagine Gary Thorne or Barry Melrose, Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick sitting around discussing hockey.  While it might wake Gary Bettman up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, I think it could do wonders for selling the game here in the U.S.

In the world of sales sometimes it doesn’t matter how good the product is if you don’t have the right people trying to sell it. 

Who do you see as a viable option for an NHL post game show here in the United States?

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